Al Sharpton defends Melissa Harris Perry from Cornel West's 'arrogant' and 'disingenuous' attacks

In a recent interview with Diverse magazine, Professor Cornel West attacked his former Princeton colleague and newly minted MSNBC host Professor Melissa Harris-Perry.

West called Harris-Perry a “liar” and said that, ”[s]he’s become the momentary darling of liberals, but I pray for her because she’s in over her head. She’s a fake and a fraud. I was so surprised how treacherous the sister was.”

West and Harris-Perry have disagreed publicly before in their varying assessments of President Barack Obama. West and talk show host Tavis Smiley have consistently been harsh on Obama and what they see as his lack of concern for the black community and the poor.

Harris-Perry’s view of the Obama administration has been more balanced, often based on analysis of process and the structural impediments to the sweeping change that many feel President Obama promised. West sees Harris-Perry, and her MSNBC colleague Reverend Al Sharpton, as conciliators to the administration. He also wonders why a civil rights activist like Sharpton wouldn’t be more harsh in his critique of Obama, questioning why he is so close to the administration.

TheGrio and MSNBC are both divisions of NBC News which is owned by NBCUniversal.

In an interview with theGrio, Rev. Sharpton responded sternly to the assertion that he and Dr. Harris-Perry were somehow rewarded for their support of the Obama administration with shows on MSNBC. “Rewarded by who?,” Sharpton says. “I don’t know if having access to the Obama administration means that one is rewarded… All of these conspiracy theorists need to check facts more clearly.”

Sharpton also posed this rhetorical question, ”[w]ho rewarded Tavis Smiley with his show?… Tavis can have a show [and] that’s fine. But if Dr. [Harris] Perry [and] I have a show all of a sudden it’s some kind of a conspiracy theory?… black people are not that stupid.”

Sharpton added that many prominent civil rights leaders of the past have had access to presidents:

This whole thing that I’m too close to the White House for a civil rights leader. Frederick Douglass had access to Abe Lincoln. Booker T. Washington had access to Teddy Roosevelt and Martin Luther King had access to John Kennedy to the degree that Kennedy told him the FBI was trying to do some things to Bayard Rustin and Jack Odell’s reputation. Andrew Young worked as the ambassador for Jimmy Carter. Jesse Jackson worked as an envoy for Bill Clinton. They need to study civil rights history. I don’t work for Obama. And every president has had civil rights leaders with access so now we get to the black president and there is a different set of rules. He shouldn’t have civil rights leaders he relates to. I think it’s surprising that scholars are not doing their scholarly inquiry here.

Sharpton also finds West’s scathing critique of President Obama “personal.”

We are not arguing about issues here, we’re arguing about personality. I supported President Obama in 2008. And I support him now not because I got some reward but because we won the election. That’s what I supported him to do. He’s doing many of the things that I supported him for. Some of the things he can’t do because of being blocked. So how do you support somebody in the election, they win, and all of a sudden you’re against them? It’s almost like they have this psychological positioning that they have to always be outsiders rather than saying that the goals are to be achieved whether you do it outside, inside, or [a] combination… I’m oriented toward achieving goals for the people, not worrying about how I’m positioned.

In a defense of Cornel West, Dr. Boyce Watkins wrote for NewsOne, “Since Harris-Perry and her friends had no legitimate defense to the critiques of Dr. West, they presumed that it would be easier to simply discredit him. You see, if you kill the messenger, you never have to deal with the message itself… Harris-Perry allowed herself to be used by the liberal establishment and their media channels to paint Professor West as irrelevant, petty, and ignorant in his critiques.”

Sharpton responded to Watkins’ comment by saying, “Cornel has a right to disagree with the president, but why does he have to go out and disparage everyone who disagrees with him? Boyce Watkins has the right to support Cornel, but why does everybody that disagrees with him have to be all of these other things?”

Melissa Harris-Perry has declined to comment in response to the remarks from West and Watkins.

In direct response to the harsh words for his MSNBC colleague Dr. Harris-Perry, Sharpton concluded, “Melissa Harris-Perry I think is an extremely gifted and important part of the social-political dialogue going on in this country. As a black woman who has shown some real insight… I’m proud that my daughters look up to her.”

Sharpton says that West calling everyone names and then acting like he’s immune from critique is “arrogant” and “disingenuous.”

Sharpton’s advice to Dr. Harris-Perry, whose new weekend show premieres February 18th?

“Don’t look back. Keep going forward….and let the haters, be haters.”

Follow Zerlina Maxwell on Twitter at @zerlinamaxwell